Sunday, January 29, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [11]

Chapter 5: August 1991-May 1992: Bosnia-Hercegovina--Paradise of the Damned

Glenny's account of the war in Bosnia proper begins with a trip across the Sava River from war-torn Slavonski Samac in Croatia to as-yet untouched Bosanski Samac on the Bosnian side. This gives him an opportunity to note how unprepared for the war Bosnia was; not just militarily and politically, but also at the level of daily life--most people simply did not seem to really believe that the war would cross over from Croatia.

It also gives him a chance to briefly explain who the Bosnian Muslims are, and what their relation to the surrounding Serbs and Croats is. I do mean briefly, by the way, and by spending only two pages explaining how the Muslim Slavs of Bosnia and Sandzak became the Muslim nation in Tito's Yugoslavia in such a cursory fashion, Glenny raises more questions than he answers, some of which are troubling.

He essentially regards the creation of a Muslim nationality as a Titoist move to create leverage against Serb and Croat nationalism in the late 60s and early 70s. He points out that they are a nation who are solely distinguished by their religion, but ignores how much Catholicism and Orthodoxy define Croats and Serbs, respectively.

Lastly, he refers to the problems this creates under the convoluted 1974 Constitutions, which defined Yugoslavia as a federation of both constituent republics and constituent nations. He argues that republics could not leave Yugoslavia without the consent of the all nations. The objection is obvious--neither Croatia nor Bosnia had the right to leave, as the Serb nation in both republics refused to cooperate.

How Glenny will square this legal objection with Western notions of individual liberty (who decides how "the nation" feels?) and minority rights (minorities were not "nations" in the Yugoslav Constitution) will be interesting.

I am not suggesting that he is misreading the Yugoslav Constitution--I am merely curious as to whether or not he sees the same problems with it that I do; and also how he thinks the situation should have been managed. Under Glenny's logic, only Slovenia and Macedonia had the right to leave Yugoslavia, given the objections of the Serb "nations" within Croatia and Bosnia (let alone the fact that the Albanian minority in Kosova were not a "nation" and therefore lacked such rights).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [10]

Chapter 4 [concluded]

Glenny meets with Slobodan Milosevic for a short interview; the results of which are so devoid of interest that he only gives a brief, one-page account of the entire incident, including the race to find a tie and pair of slacks on short notice. The general impression one gets is that Milosevic really was a sociopath; Glenny notes of his demeanor in the interview that the "most abiding feature, however, was the complete absence of anything resembling feeling or humanity in his attitude." It is also noteworthy that Milosevic was put off by Glenny's ability to speak Serbo-Croat (a true Serb nationalist would have been pleased, but "an autocrat like Milosevic, however, felt uncomfortable").

The rest of the chapter to the end is taken with a trip through the Sandzak, into Montenegro, and then up the war-ravaged Dalmatian coast to besieged Dubrovnik. There is plenty of local color and interesting detail, but the overall effect is simply a collective portrait of localized sociopolitical trauma in every nook and cranny of the old Yugoslavia.

While there is little in Glenny's account to editorialize on--he is largely a sympathetic observer with a good eye for telling detail--there is one comment which, in light of the troubling subtext of equivalency in his entire consideration of the Croatian war, might strike the reader as odd. In his explanation of how the JNA bombardment of the old town of Dubrovnik served as a symbol of how devoid of human considerations the aggressors' tactics were, he also adds that the "Croat defence forces bear a share of this responsibility" because they deliberately housed gun and light artillery positions on the old town walls, "goading the JNA into firing on them." Glenny sees this as a cynical attempt to exploit the resulting destruction for propaganda purposes.

While this is probably largely true, there are two objections one might raise. First; the JNA and their supporter reservists (many from Montenegro; Glenny does an excellent job of describing their craven and gleefully destructive conduct) were going to be shelling the city, regardless; and really, shouldn't the blame be fixed on the forces shooting at a city full of civilians, rather than at the forces of the UN-recognized government defending it? And, secondly--this line of criticism unfortunately parallels the later frequent criticisms of the Bosnian Government for playing to international opinion while their country and citizens were being subjected to extermination.

And so this chapter ends, with Glenny leaving his fellow journalists in Dubrovnik in order to hurry up towards Mostar, where tensions are near the breaking point. In the next chapter, we arrive in Bosnia.


NOTE: My next semester in graduate school begins this week; knowing that I will be much busier, and also aware that I have never honored one of the common suggestions for a really successful blog--regular and consistent posting--I have decided that beginning with this post, I will now seek to post on every Sunday; but probably only on Sunday for at least until summer. This way, I can promise a certain level of regular posting so that readers don't have to keep checking in, and at the same time as I keep this blog active and vital, I am also not over-committing myself.

So, next Sunday, January 29, I will return with a post reviewing at least the first part of Chapter 5.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [9]

Chapter 4 [continued]

The next several pages of chapter 4 recount Glenny's adventures traversing the war zone in and around Croatia, negotiating his way through a variety of roadblocks manned on both sides of the front line by an unpredictable spectrum of military, paramilitary, and vigilante personnel in a variety of uniforms and non-uniforms. The abstract political and nationalist propaganda and policies from faraway Belgrade and Zagreb get filtered and reduced down to the ground level to a toxic level of fear, xenophobia, uncertainty, and raw hate. Villages are decimated, beautiful towns and cities like Vukovar are decimated, and atrocities against civilians mount with agonizing regularity.

This ground-level view of the Croatian war is clearly intended as a deliberate contrast between the realities of the war as it played out versus the rhetoric not only coming from Serbia and Croatia, but from Western observers. Most particularly, western advocates of intervention, or those who chose to place the blame primarily at the feet of the Serbian leadership.

Glenny's point here seems to be that the arguments of interventionists simply dissolve into irrelevancy upon contact with the ugly realities of the war. Throughout this chapter, there is a sense that Glenny almost considers the Croatian war to be a semi-discrete event following its own logic, rather than another theater in the larger breakdown of Yugoslavia. I don't think he would characterize his account that way, and I freely admit that I am possibly being unfair by doing so; but all the same I have a hard time squaring the more systematic analysis of the earlier chapters--in which his personal reporting was grounded in a broader consideration of the politics of the dying Yugoslav state--with this "bottom-up" approach.

It's not that Glenny has forgone larger considerations, but often his analysis of political and nationalist factors is almost entirely self-contained; for example, the fact that the JNA is an actor in this conflict, even including the involvement of heavy artillery firing into Croatia from the Vojvodina region, is noted frequently, but the possibility that this threat to Croatian sovereignty might be an important factor in the radicalization of Croats in outlying areas. That is not to excuse the vile racism of the right-wing of the HDZ (or even the clumsy, insensitive jingoism of Tudjman and the mainstream of the party), but rather to point out that Glenny rather abruptly puts the war in Croatia in an almost entirely Croatian context.

He also seems to be advocating for ethnic separation at points in this chapter; whether this is implicit in some of his logic or is something he is aware of, I am not sure. He seems rather dismissive when noting that Croats were adamant about retaining the republican borders of the country even as he never suggests a viable political solution to the "problem" of a Serb minority within that border.

I absolutely agree that the new Croatian state under the HDZ failed spectacularly to meet the challenge of having a sizable minority with memories of being the victims of genocide under the World War II fascists Croatian state. And perhaps Glenny felt strongly that he needed to provide a counterpoint to the standard Western narrative which crudely portrayed the conflict as a simply tale of endemic Serb aggression.

However, this disconnect between the larger geopolitical narrative and the village-by-village portrait of daily life turned into a mosaic of innumerable acts of brutality and senseless destruction does seem to lead Glenny towards a conditional consideration of the legitimacy of ethnic division. He quotes a Macedonian officer who had deserted from the JNA at length; his two-page transcription of this man's words conclude with this paragraph:

"Serbs and Croats in eastern Slavonia can never live together because too much blood has been spilt and the Serbs will never let go of any of this territory. As far as I could work out, the Croats had provoked a lot of the nastiness in the first place but searching for the one who started it is a waste of time. Once it had started the massacres were unstoppable. It will never end whether they have a ceasefire, peace-keeping troops or whatever. This is not a war, this is extermination."

This is not Glenny himself speaking, of course, but his description of this talk as a "[o]ne of the most revealing conversations I had during the war", and of course you don't quote an interviewee for two full pages for no reason.

Glenny is too humane to advocate for ethnic division; however, he seems to be moving towards a point of view in which it is the only reasonable way to end ethnic violence once it was unleashed.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [8]

Chapter 4: July 1991-January 1992: The Twilight Zone

The first few pages of this chapter briefly describe the naive and optimistic diplomacy of the European Community. Despite some fumbling and miscalculation, the European "Troika" of diplomats were able to obtain an end to the ten-day Slovenian war; the Brioni Accord. This rather neat and uncomplicated end to the fighting (Glenny does not here discuss the possibility that the entire war was a very half-hearted, even disingenuous, effort by the Yugoslav state and Milosevic) gave the European Community (particularly Germany, according to Glenny) a false belief that "it could promote piecemeal solutions to the Yugoslav crisis--a grave error." [page 101]

The next several pages illustrate the growing violence in several regions of Croatia by focusing on one incident--the murder of Osijek Chief of Police Josip Reichl-Kir, a Croat of German-Hungarian ethnic heritage (a perfect example of the artificial nature of "nationality" in the Balkans--and everywhere else, for that matter).

Reichl-Kir was a brave, principled and far-sighted man, who worked tirelessly at great risk to maintain peace between local Croats and the embattled Serb minority. His efforts had been more or less successful; it helped that this area had not seen serious ethnic violence during World War II, although there were many Serbs and Croats who had been settled here in the post-war period by the Tito government in order to remove them from areas which had seen ethnic violence. Thus, tragically, putting some of the most traumatized and radicalized Serb and Croat communities in close proximity to each other, in a region in which the indigenous Serbs and Croats had no quarrel with each other. Glenny notes that in villages made up entirely of "natives," ethnic violence was resisted and in a few places the war never divided these mixed communities.

But, unfortunately, the virus of nationalism found plenty of fertile soil. When Reichl-Kir and other local leaders (both Serb and Croat) were killed by automatic rifle fire in his car, peace largely collapsed. Within a day, violence had broken out.

I still have some reservations about Glenny's perspective, but I will hold off on them for now. I want to pause here, in an admittedly pitiful and belated tribute to Reichl-Kir; those apologists and non-interventionists who believe that the violence in the Balkans was simply an inevitable outbreak of native bloodlust and an endemic culture of revenge and violence need to account for facts like this--in order for the demons of war to be unleashed, it was necessary for armed thugs to murder decent men like Reichl-Kir and intimidate countless other equally decent of less courageous individuals. In the fighting to come, the casualties begin to increase from a handful, to dozens, then hundreds, and then thousands. We can never let these increasing statistics cloud our view of innumerable individual crimes which constituted the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. It would necessary to murder many other decent, principled men and women in order to create the opportunity for ethnic war.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [7]

Chapter 3 [concluded]

Chapter 3 concludes with a consideration of the role that Slovenia played in the final breakup of Yugoslavia; and of a portrait of the moderate Serb region of Glina, who were traumatized and radicalized by the actions of the HDZ and later by agents from the Knin SDS.

Neither of these brief accounts ring false; yet there seems to be something missing in Glenny's account. It is not incorrect to note that Slovenia's exit from Yugoslavia was in many ways hasty, that it forced Croatia to follow suit while unprepared, or that the Slovenes and Croats were backed by many European governments which didn't fully comprehend the seriousness of the situation. Yet at the same time, there seems to be very little awareness from Glenny of the fact that Slovenia was a small republic facing the very real specter of a Serb-dominated central state under Milosevic; he only mentions the economic disparities between the wealthier Alpine republic and its poorer neighbors to the south.

What seems to be in play here is that one of Glenny's strengths--he's a Serbo-Croat speaker who spent a lot of time on the ground and reported quickly--is also, if not exactly a weakness, at the very least has led him to narrow his focus just a little bit too much. For while the early part of this book demonstrated a solid grasp of recent political and economic events which fueled the crisis, in this chapter there seems to be a real disconnect between this larger context and the discrete local scenarios he describes.

In the case of the moderate Serbs around Glina; the larger story here is that the rise of nationalism and and nationalist politicians narrowed, and finally eliminated, the civic space in which is was possible to maintain a "Yugoslav" or non-ethnic identity. Ultimately, the Serbs around Glina were forced to join with the SDS because it was no longer possible to be anything but exclusively Serb.

I cannot shake the nagging feeling that Glenny is too hasty to shift the focus entirely to the heavy-handed, thuggish tactics of Tudjman's government; but at the same time Glenny had been so clear-headed in his analysis up to now it seems a bit unfair to be too quick to accuse him of downplaying the primary role of the Belgrade regime by engaging in some faux-objective 'even-handedness.'

What does seem to be clear at the conclusion of this chapter is that Glenny certainly regards the war in Croatia to have been much more of situation in which the Croatian government brought on the war just as much as the Yugoslav government did. This seems to fly in the face of his own admission that Tudjman, unlike Milosevic and the JNA, had not really prepared for war. It also raises the question--if Tudjman had been a wiser leader and the moderate wing of the HDZ had predominated, would the war in Croatia still have happened? Would it have been as brutal? And would ethnic cleansing still have entered the lexicon of the late 20th century? I am not at all convinced that the answers to any of these questions would be 'No'; and therefore, I have some serious reservations about Glenny's perspective.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [6]

Chapter 3 [continued]

Next, Glenny goes to Croatia. This entire chapter is something of a morbid travelogue, in which he visits several republics as well as Kosovo on the eve of the war; his account of his stop in Zagreb is of a piece with what he has written before, including both a sadly touching meeting of a committed Yugoslav intellectuals of a variety of ethnic backgrounds, and a depressing account of the ubiquity of Croatian nationalist iconography.

But, prior to this, Glenny begins his account of the mood in Croatia on the eve of war with a discussion of the Borovo Selo incident, in which 12 Croat policemen and 3 Serb civilians were killed in an incident which many Croats considered the beginning of the war, and which Glenny decided was the result of Croat provocations. His obvious determination to make this point, at some length, is slightly troubling.

I am not arguing that he is necessarily wrong, at least on narrowly technical grounds. Not wanting to rehash his version of events at greater length than his account, I'll simply note that Borovo Selo is a town near Vukovar in Slavonia; and that responsible local authorities had worked out a fragile truce between Serbs and Croat/HDZ authorities. Central to this truce was that Croat police would not enter the area, which was controlled by Serbs.

Unfortunately, some Croatian police did come in, apparently under orders from regional HDZ leaders cynically looking to stir up more violence and create a pretext for aggression.

The problem here is that Glenny seems too quick to present this incident as some sort of balance; the paragraph which opens the section of the chapter on this incident closes with the sentences:

"Although I had always considered the HDZ a dangerous organization, I believed Milosevic to be the evil genius of the Yugoslav crisis. Borovo Selo was to instruct me in the ways of Croatian nationalism which, when activated, proved a formidable counterpart to its Serbian opponent."

This seems a little hasty a move to some implied "middle ground" in which we quickly forget that while Tudjman and the HDZ were certainly doing much to stir up genuine--and understandable--fear among Serbs, it was Milosevic who was quietly preparing the army and its proxies for real war. While the Croatian police who were captured and killed (three of whom were mutilated and probably tortured) were indeed sent to violate an armistice, the fact remains that they were operating in Croatian territory.

Glenny's account suggests the possibility that he may be so solicitous towards the Serbs in other republics that he is too quick to focus on their immediate situation at the expense of the larger context.

However, at this point in the narrative it is worth pointing out that the war hasn't started yet. The horrors of Vukovar are coming, but they haven't arrived yet. Glenny seems to protest too much in this section--up until now we have heard nothing really about him, but suddenly we learn that he, personally, has been attacked both for allegedly being too pro-Croatian and for being too pro-Serb. I have no doubt that he is telling the truth, so far as that goes. However, his decision to interrupt the narrative in order to dwell on this point at some length raises a concern or two. An author who pauses in his story to assert that he has been attacked for being too unbiased should not be surprised if at least some readers wonder why he suddenly protest so much.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [5]

Chapter 3: June-July 1991: State of Independence

This chapter starts off with a trio of vignettes which serve both to illustrate the sad sense of impending doom which hung over Yugoslavia (and of which the rest of the world remained ignorant), and of the fragile beauty of daily life which was about to be desecrated by war.

First Glenny goes to Prague, for the Conference on European Confederation which he describes as "a sop to Eastern European countries." While there, he speaks with the former Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Mate Babic, who turns out to be an astute witness to Franjo Tudjman's governing style. The most interesting observation is this:

"Although he was distinctly no friend of Milosevic, Mate Babic admitted frankly that Serbia had gone further down the road to privitization than Croatia. Tudjman, he insisted, was consciously blocking Croatia's progress in this direction. Let it be remembered that according to President Tudjman, Croatia's moral superiority over Serbia lay in its fervent commitment to free-market economics."

And let it also be remembered that, according to left-wing apologists for the Milosevic regime, Yugoslavia was allegedly destroyed partly because he was courageously defending the socialism of Yugoslavia against the forces of Western neo-liberalism and their capitalist lackeys such as Tudjman.

Glenny also meets Srdja Popovic, a distinguished Serbian liberal journalist from Belgrade, who predicts that war will break out when the republics begin declaring independence.

Then he makes his way from depressing, doom-ridden Belgrade to Prishtina, where he meets Veton Surroi, who proves to be a charming observer himself. The account of this visit largely serves the purpose of allowing Glenny to deal with the subject of Kosovo on the eve of the wars which would, for a few years anyway, push this occupied colony out of sight and out of mind. Glenny does seem to "get it" in Kosovo; he regards it as being an occupied territory, and he notes that few if any Serbs from Serbia have ever been there. He realizes that the presence of the state there is one of racist occupation, and that the Albanians are the victims of oppression. He also feels genuine pity for the Kosovar Serbs, whom he realizes are pawns of the Milosevic regime, which needs them in a perpetual state of fear and insecurity in order to justify the crackdown. Glenny essentially concedes the right of self-determination of the Albanian majority and the case for independence.

Finally, he visits Macedonia, where he dwells a little on the state of the Albanian minority there and the larger issue of Albanian nationalism; he ends up in Skopje as the guest of Macedonian journalist Sasho Ordanoski. They avoid politics, meet a lot of people, and have a wonderful night. It's a lovely scene, one which makes you ache knowing of the deluge which is to come.

And it comes...

Monday, January 09, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [4]

Chapter 2: Belgrade, March 1991: Dress Rehearsal--Serb Eat Serb

The first several pages of this chapter are a well-written summary of Milosevic's rise to power--the betrayal of Stambolic, the utilization of nationalist sentiment, the exploitation of Kosovo, the manipulation of the mass media and the popular masses--a story which is surely all-too familiar to regular readers.

Glenny also shows that while Milosevic was using the rising nationalist tide for leverage in his political machinations within the Yugoslav Federation, he was hardly a committed nationalist (Milosevic, it's safe to say, never believed in much of anything other than getting power and holding on to it), nor was he able to resist calls for multiparty elections. He managed to win these, but not by an overwhelming majority and even this victory was accomplished through some degree of fraud. The opposition--which was divided, and heavily dominated by nationalists, to the point where even liberal parties had to make accommodations to nationalist sentiment--led by Vuk Drashkovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement--organized a massive demonstration in Belgrade.

Glenny draws a brief sketch of the Serb/Yugoslav capital; a vibrant and cosmopolitan (if architecturally unimpressive) city being slowly swamped with ugly nationalism. This was the setting for Milosevic's sudden, draconian crackdown, in which many people were hurt, violence and vandalism were rampant, and many were arrested, including Drashkovic and many other prominent opposition figures. The fighting was intense, as these protesters were largely committed nationalists rather than liberal-minded peaceful types.

This only spread the discontent; to sum matters up, the protest spread but became more peaceful and settled as thousands of mostly students took over public spaces and for a time seemed to gain the upper hand; the police slunk away, and most of their well-articulated demands were met. One demand was not met, however--Milosevic did not step down. Rather, he stayed out of the public eye and offered up plenty of disposable sacrificial lambs to sate the demands of the public.

And then, ultimately, the opposition sputtered, gave up the streets, and went home feeling that they had won. But Milosevic was still in power; and what's more, he was able to use the mess that was Yugoslavia's constitution to his own benefit, as the man who had and would again use the legalisms of the Yugoslav Federation for his own ends bluntly announced that Serbia would no longer be bound by the Yugoslav Presidency, and that the Serbian Territorial Militias would be mobilized.

All the while, behind closed doors the alliance between the Serbian leadership and the Yugoslav Army was cemented. The last chance for peace--namely, by getting rid of Milosevic--had been squandered.


I apologize if the review of this chapter seems rather perfunctory, but the events here are all pretty well known by now, as I noted already. There is also less personal color here, as Glenny was mostly just observing events and learning about them second-hand. His description of being in the middle of the attempt by the students to cross the bridge over the Sava against police barricades, and of being subjected to tear gas, is effective, but other than than any more detail would simply be rehashing the same cynical schemes we all already know all too much about.

It is worth noting that while Glenny acknowledges the depth of nationalist sentiment among the larger Serb population, he doesn't examine it as deeply as I wish he had. We will see if this becomes problematic in later chapters.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [3]

Chapter 1 [continued]

After a brief consideration of how Tudjan's heavy-handed Croatian nationalism managed to undermine the fragile unity of the nascent Croatian state by needlessly alienating and implicitly threatening the Serb minority, Glenny's meeting with Milan Babic (once Macura is finally able to get them together) finally happens.

This is before Babic has fully wrested overt control of the Croatian SDS away from Raskovic (although in practice the coup was all but over with), and before Babic defied Milosevic, but all this was easy to see coming; Glenny's initial impression that Babic is simply a stupid, crude, unimpressive figure is soon replaced by a sobering awareness that Babic is Milosevic's equal when it comes to ruthless cunning and amoral deceit. Raskovic's naive attempts to defend Serb rights and Krajina autonomy through peaceful, political means within the framework of the Croatian state were doomed when this man grasped the reins of power.

This was all during 1990, before the war broke out and before anyone could be sure just how bad things would get. The rest of the chapter covers Glenny's second visit to Knin in January of 1992, after the Croatian war was in full swing (but before the outbreak of hostilities in neighboring Bosnia). The setting is somewhat surreal--Knin was an important hub of the Serb military machine (a mixture of local militias, the forces of the breakaway Krajina Republic, Serb nationalist paramilitaries, and the Serb-controlled Yugoslav army--as well as a smattering of Bosnian Muslim units; remember, this was still nominally a war for Yugoslav "unity"), and therefore saw a great deal of activity, increase in population, movement of troops, but very little actual fighting. The town was spared the worst effects of war, for the time being.

But the signs of war are everywhere, the choking pollution and omnipresent fear and hatred has wiped out whatever signs of discontent, doubts, and hopes for compromise. The people who before might have at the least betrayed some reservations about the single-minded push for ethnic war have now all fallen into line; the Croatian minority, of course, are long gone.

In his interactions with local military, Glenny again describes the menace and, what's more, the stupidity of so many of the footsoldiers of this war. And this returns me to the point touched on in the previous post--how Glenny manages to deal with what I am rather broadly (maybe even crudely) describing as the country-versus-city aspect to the Balkan wars; also, however, I think he is touching on something less demographic and more universal. Simply put, some people are attracted to violence, brutality, and bigotry, and will eagerly embrace any opportunity to identify an "other" to lash out at. Under normal circumstances, a healthy civic society seeks to--at the very least--control and contain such people, and to avoid empowering them. During the Balkan Wars, however, these people were by and large given the keys to the kingdom and set loose; everybody else was forced to decide whether to flee, resist, or fall into line. This is the "hell" that Knin had become, even though the overt violence of war is largely absent. The sociopaths are now largely in control of daily life.

This is an important distinction, because as I alluded to in the previous post, far too many observers (particularly those with an anti-interventionist agenda) have portrayed the paranoid, belligerent hostility of the armed thugs who carried out so much of the carnage in the former Yugoslavia were somehow emblematic of the people of the Balkans in general. Glenny is hinting at something less particular to the region here--that they were, instead, local variations of a universal type, unleashed from social control and empowered by unscrupulous politicians.

In Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the political order was hijacked by provincial local elites who realized that virulent nationalism provided an opportunity to leverage history and latent ethnic consciousness into greater power for themselves. In order to do so, they needed to tear apart the fabric of society which existed. And who better to do that than the stupid, the hateful, and the vindictive among us? When civil society is unable to control the bullies among us, disorder and violence are bound to follow.

The degree to which Glenny sees this as a universal question rather than a specifically Balkan question is unclear--as he has already shown, the particular cultural, historical, social, and political context matters just as much as the more general questions of human nature I have sketched above. I would suggest that the answer is that what happened in Yugoslavia in the 190s was a tragic nexus between particular local conditions and human fallibility. Whether it was SA Brownshirts in Weimer Germany or hooded Klansman in the Reconstruction South--the empowerment of gleefully hateful thugs by the breakdown of civil society or the debasement of a just social order is bound to unleash the bullies among us

Therefore, the title of this chapter ("The Heart of the Matter") has a double-meaning. On the one hand, Knin is the heart of the Serb Krajina, even as the Krajina is the heart of the rebellion and ultimately the Serb war against the Croatian state. At the same time, however, the question Glenny closes his chapter with is also the "heart of the matter":

"...I am still frustrated by my own inability to determine whether Knin is the victim of the grandiose stupidity and callousness which swill around the corridors of power in Belgrade and Zagreb. Or whether this wilderness with nothing to recommend it on the surface was merely waiting for the chance to exact revenge for its social, economic and political inferiority complex."

The specifics of this question are without a doubt particular to the former Yugoslavia; the larger theme, however, is not.

Glenny ends by describing his meeting with Ratko Mladic, who was at the time still based in Knin. But not for long--shortly, he was reassigned to Bosnia. At the time, Glenny recognized this as an ominous development. Sadly, he would soon be proven correct.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [2]

Chapter 1: Knin, August/October 1990-January 1992: The Heart of the Matter

Glenny begins with a visit to the breakaway statelet of the "Republic of Serbian Krajina" in the Fall of 1990. This was the period just prior to the war, when separatist tensions were high. He describes a tense drive from the warm, scenic Adriatic coast up into the dry, harsh Krajina interior around Knin. Negotiations through multiple roadblocks manned by suspicious locals armed with anything from old shotguns to automatic weapons are the first interaction Glenny has with the ethnic Serb locals. We get the first glimpse of an "us-against-them" seige mentality, of which we will learn much more.

After briefly describing the unimpressive but strategically important town of Knin itself, Glenny goes on to briefly sketch the historic origins of the Krajina and its population of gun-loving, proudly independent Serbs.*Then he finally makes his way to his contact, Knin Town Council Deputy President-turned-Information Minister in the afore-mentioned rebel statelet Lazar Macura, who had agreed to take Glenny to meet Milan Babic, the President of the Knin Town Council and the rabble-rousing Serb politician who did so much to create the rebellion and would ultimately take control of the Serbian Republic of the Krajina. They have to go through a couple more roadblocks--although this is much more perfunctory now that Glenny is with Macura--before this meeting happens; but before I go on there is something worth commenting on in these first few pages.

Glenny does an effective job of conveying the paranoid belligerence the rural Krajina Serbs, and he does so in terms which suggest a dimension to the coming war which many Western observers failed to realize--how the war was, in addition to an ethnic war and even a religious war, was also to some degree a war of the countryside against the city; of the provincial peasant against the cosmopolitan urbanite. This is a difficult subject to examine, partly because the descriptions of suspicious, hostile locals can so easily drift into a more general portrait of a stereotypical Balkan "type" or even just plain racism. Some of Glenny's descriptions of the appearance of the some of the gunmen he encountered, as well as their gun-loving machismo, could be said to skirt the margins of such overkill, but he never crosses the line.

He is not merely describing these people for the sake of "color" nor is he doing what so many glib observers did--dismissing the war as simply an expression of intrinsic Balkan primivitism or propensity for violence. As we will see in the next post (covering the rest of the chapter), Glenny is making a larger, and more subtle, point.

*As always, my reviews assume some degree of knowledge on the part of the reader; I presume I don't need to explain the history of the Hapsburgs and the Ottomans; that "Krajina" means a military frontier; and so forth.

Monday, January 02, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [1]


Glenny's book was originally published in 1992; revised editions were released in 1993 and then again in 1996. This review is for the final US edition.

The Preface, from the 1992 Edition and included here, is simply a short statement made by an actor from Belgrade named Boro Todorovic, given on a television broadcast on November 2, 1991. The war was still largely confined to Croatia at the time.

Todorovic spoke out against the violence, but just as much against the nationalist rhetoric and the "with us or against us" group-think mentality that it required. He spoke of the war--which at that point had yet to reach its darkest depths--as a horrible nightmare which nobody could wake up from. It is an explicit rejection of nationalism and patriotism in the name of ethnic murder.

Glenny left this prolouge in the final version; adding only a 1996 postscript noting that due to the end of the war and the de facto partitioning of Bosnia, he believes that while the fighting has stopped "I am not yet convinced that the stability of the Balkans has been secured."

In the next post, I will review chapter 1.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year--and my 2012 Resolution for this blog

I hope all my readers had a good ending to 2011, and I hope for a happy and healthy 2012 for all of you.

I realize that, in terms of both quantity of posts and quality of what I did bother writing, 2011 was the weakest year yet in the history of this blog. My New Year's Resolution for "Americans for Bosnia" is a modest one--I promise to post more regularly and frequently than I did in the past year, and I promise to do more than merely pass along articles and blog posts by others from time to time.

I will start off right away tomorrow, with the first of what I hope will be several reviews of English-language books on the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s (the task which has long been the strength of this blog, to the degree that it has one at all). The book I intend to summarize and review is one most readers should be familiar with--Misha Glenny's The Fall of Yugoslavia: the Third Balkan War. This is toward the long-term goal of transitioning this blog into an interactive database of book reviews and summaries someday (most likely after I finish my Master's studies, to be honest).

I will begin this review tomorrow; hopefully this will breath some life back into this blog.

More to follow.